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‘My almost-three year old son can’t say he loves me.’

My son can’t say he loves me. He can’t say anything at all, actually.

It’s been two years since I sat down with parent manual, ‘What to Expect: The First Year’. Two years since the knot of anxiety first grew in the part of my heart reserved especially for my son.

Every child develops differently, I repeat to myself. He’ll be fine. My heart hurts as my eyes scan the pages. Can pull himself up to stand. May attempt to walk whilst holding onto furniture or your hand. Might even be walking on his own.

Lawrence has only now started commando crawling.

Days later we saw a doctor, and the knot of anxiety took root in my heart where it has since stayed. I had hoped after hearing our concerns we’d be reassured that his delayed development was indeed normal, and there was no cause for alarm. He’d catch up in his own time. Instead we were given the details of a paediatrician, and were set on a months-long path we couldn’t have anticipated as first-time parents. Paediatrician, physiotherapist, speech pathologist, optometrist, audiologist, developmental psychologist- a conveyor belt of childhood experts to arrive at a three word-diagnosis. Global Developmental Delay.

My beautiful boy has Global Developmental Delay. Something I knew nothing about. Image supplied.

In the five key areas of development, my beautiful baby boy is severely limited in all five. Not walking until he was nearly two years old, not yet speaking at almost-three- that he is delayed in physical, outward ways is obvious. What is less obvious is that his ability to problem solve is impaired. That his social skills are that of a child half his age. That there is a real chance he may always be behind.

I wish I could tell you that I met my son’s diagnosis with a steely determination at all times, that I was fearless in my endeavour to get his development on par with those of other children his age. That when my son needed me most, I was the mother he deserves.

Image supplied.

But I wasn’t. Still now at times, I’m not.

The guilt would envelop me, rendering me useless, and it is only recently I’ve pushed that burden off my shoulders. For a long time I found myself apologising to my son in my mind whenever I looked at him. Did I do something during pregnancy to cause this? I did have a soft serve that one time. I know I shouldn’t have put you in front of the television so often during infancy- but those sleepless nights for months on end exhausted me- I swear I wouldn’t have done it did I know then what I know now. Please forgive me.

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It is terrible to believe you could be responsible for causing your child hardship. Image supplied.

When guilt was through with me, I sat with sadness for a long time. I’d hover anxiously over my first-born at playgrounds, much unlike the mother I’d wished to be, aware his inability to call for help makes my son a target for bullies. A target for much worse. I mourned the loss of the childhood my husband and I imagined for our son- when your child has Global Developmental Delay, every playtime is an opportunity for intervention. For repeating sounds, for teaching sign language. Over and over, until an attempt at imitation is made.

We all worry that our children may be left behind once they begin school. There is little time to be carefree with play when your child depends on you to just get them to the starting line.

I’d hurt when our every progress was met with, ‘I knew he’d get better with time’ and ‘I never thought there was anything for you to worry about- it’s not like he has a serious disability’. Well-meaning relatives and friends who didn’t understand thousands of dollars, countless hours and immeasurable effort were behind each small development, sometimes for something as simple as getting my son to make eye contact. Resentment threatened to move in after sadness’ departure.

My emotions have been unpredictable, but my son's gentle nature remains constant. Image supplied.

Then resentment left too, and I’ve been left with the joy of having my son. My beautiful boy, who delights everyone who encounters him. He is gentle and affectionate, and curious around animals. His laugh causes my heart to swell and break at the same time from the innocence of it. God, he is so beautiful. In the year since his diagnosis, Lawrence has made so much progress, my clever darling. He still can’t speak, but his social skills have improved tenfold; in past weeks he has started playing with his little sister, who looks at him with stars in her eyes. As if he were the most special boy in the world. She sees him as I do.

A few months ago I was sitting face-to-face with Lawrence, Lego blocks sprawled all around and between us. He had just succeeded in connecting two blocks together for the third time in a row, and thrilled, I told my son I loved him. I wrapped my arms around myself, communicating to him with our sign for love as I spoke, and for the first time, he signed he loved me too.

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